The question of whether has been answered. Now it’s a question of when. Buried in multiple scandals that he largely authored himself, Boris Johnson finally agreed to resign as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The move came only after nearly every major and minor minister in Johnson’s cabinet resigned over the last few days … including a couple Johnson appointed to replace others that had resigned in protest:
Boris Johnson has agreed to step down as the British prime minister, the BBC reported on Thursday, following an avalanche of resignations within his own government that eroded his authority and paralyzed the British government.
So who takes over today? Er … Boris Johnson. In fact, despite this resignation and the near-total walkout of his cabinet, Johnson is essentially stuck with the job until the Conservatives can select a replacement. That would traditionally take as long as three months, during which Johnson would stick around as a caretaker.
That’s what Johnson expects now. Under the circumstances, however, the Tories might decide to expedite matters. One major figure in the party warned that Johnson would use that time to manipulate his way into becoming his own successor:
In fast-breaking news, Johnson has reportedly agreed to resign as leader of the Conservative Party, but hopes to stay in office until the autumn. During that time, the party would pick a new prime minister to replace Johnson. There would be no general election.
There was immediate and fierce pushback to that idea from some lawmakers and party grandees who warned that Johnson was soiling the Conservative Party brand and that he was too damaged to stay in office through the summer.
Johnson’s former top aide and now chief critic, who helped his boss win the Brexit referendum and get elected, warned that the prime minister needed to go now. In a tweet, he urged the Conservative Party to “Evict TODAY or he’ll cause CARNAGE.”
Dominic Cummings said that Johnson even now is “playing for time” and will try to stay on if he’s allowed to remain in office until the fall. “He doesn’t think it’s over,” Cummings said, adding that Johnson still is plotting, thinking ,”I can still get out of this, I got a mandate, members love me, get to September…”
One does have to wonder how easily Johnson would be dislodged after a couple of months of relative normality at 10 Downing Street. The circumstances of this resignation differ from the usual in British politics, which means that a more languorous process may not fit this time. British PMs usually resign either to retire or because they lost some key policy fight, as did David Cameron on Brexit and Theresa May on Brexit’s implementation. Having them stick around a few weeks presented no real issues for the party in terms of public perception.
Johnson’s a different kettle of fish for Conservatives this time around, thanks to the series of scandals that finally undermined his position. He makes for an easy target for their opposition, and if left in place might trigger an election that the Tories neither need or want under these circumstances. Labour leader Keir Starmer has already begun plotting his next moves:
Many said he should leave immediately and hand over to his deputy, Dominic Raab, saying he had lost the trust of his party.
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said he would call a parliamentary confidence vote if the Conservatives did not remove him at once. read more
“If they don’t get rid of him, then Labour will step up in the national interest and bring a vote of no confidence because we can’t go on with this prime minister clinging on for months and months to come,” he said.
Conservatives will not likely fare well in national elections, which will result from a successful no-confidence vote. Still, Johnson has grown unpopular enough with some Tory MPs that such a vote might succeed. The leadership of the Conservatives will need to come up with another plan other than the usual 1922 Committee process that will take three months to complete.
Tories have begun calling for a hybrid plan — use the normal selection process, but appoint a caretaker PM in the meantime to get Johnson out immediately. And one familiar name has begun to get mentioned:
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said the party needed “a new leader as soon as practicable”.
“Someone who can rebuild trust, heal the country, and set out a new, sensible and consistent economic approach to help families,” he added.
Others suggested Johnson should quit immediately, calling for a caretaker leader such as Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, or Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor.
Theresa May? That certainly would make an interesting bookend to the Johnson era. Raab’s the more likely candidate, though, and might be in the running for the 1922 Committee’s final shortlist to Tory MPs:
George Freeman, who resigned as science minister on Thursday morning, agreed, saying: “We need ministers back at their desks. Now PM has finally done the decent thing he needs to hand in the seals of office, apologise to Her Majesty, allow her to appoint a caretaker under whom ministers can serve, so the Conservative party can choose a new leader properly.”
Two ex-ministers also said it was not possible for Johnson to stay until the autumn. One said: “He needs to be gone by tonight. Raab should take over.” Another said: “He needs to hand in the seals of office today and go, so we can have a caretaker PM.”
In his exit speech, Johnson said he would serve until “a new leader is in place.” That’s a bit ambiguous, but it leaves the ball in the Tory leadership’s court. If they want a new leader today, they’ll either have to meet quickly to elect a caretaker or a new PM altogether. Otherwise, they will have to stand by while Johnson appoints a new cabinet all over again and then perhaps uses that time to rebuild his standing in the party. That might not allow Johnson to gather enough political strength to succeed himself in the 1922 Committee process, but it would provide plenty of time to conduct enough mischief to undermine his eventual successor and work on a comeback from the back bench, if that’s what Johnson has in mind.
I’d expect the party to call a quick vote to appoint a caretaker to avoid that possibility. Theresa May would be a potentially good choice, not because of her policy stands but because she won’t be in the mix for the competition to succeed Johnson. Or the party could tip its hand and vote for the person who they believe will come next anyway — Raab, perhaps, although he doesn’t appear to be getting a lot of mention, Jeremy Hunt, or perhaps Liz Truss, the Johnson loyalist who finally flipped yesterday. Stay tuned, but don’t expect Johnson to stick around until October.